Understanding Anxiety and 5 ways to Relieve it in 10 Minutes or Less

Anxiety can be helpful in mild to moderate amounts, and when a situation calls for it. For example, anxiety can motivate a student to study for their exams, or help an athlete better prepare for a big game. But when anxiety levels are too high, the opposite happens. It can impair performance, and wreak havoc on an individual’s performance, quality of life, and overall well-being.

Spiraling into depression, anxiety attacks, excessive overthinking when trying to sleep, and stress related health problems are just a few of the issues that can arise in a person dealing with anxiety. The effects of this become evident in a person’s relationships with other people, their perceptions of the world, and their ability to remain focused on working towards their goals.

It is crucial for anyone suffering from anxiety to understand where anxiety comes from, why it happens, and know how to relieve it quickly so they can achieve a better quality of life and feel more in control of their wellbeing.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a state of unease that can range from mild to severe. It often involves an intense and persistent feeling of fear, worry, and doubt about events or things in the future. In more severe cases, the anxiety is significant enough to cause a person disruption in their overall functioning. Anxiety is deeply connected to feeling afraid and disturbed about what has yet to come.

Often, people see anxiety as a terrible thing that they want to rid themselves of. But anxiety, in mild to moderate amounts, is normal and can actually be quite helpful to us. It increases alertness, renders us more prepared for challenging tasks and highlights what is important for us to attend to, especially in more complex situations. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. It helps us to better respond to a stressor at hand by helping us to stay focused, prepare for upcoming events, and protect ourselves from potential negative outcomes. 

It is an entirely normal process. However, when the intensity of fear and doubt becomes extreme, it is no longer helpful and impairs performance, rather than aiding it. And if left untreated, can cause significant impairments in your daily life and result in “clinical” anxiety, otherwise known as an “anxiety disorder”.

Where does anxiety come from?

The cause of anxiety is unknown and is likely multi-faceted. It is believed that a combination of biological and environmental factors are involved. They can include having a genetic predisposition to anxiety, brain chemistry changes, having negative past experiences, early childhood experiences, current socioeconomic factors, life stressors and social conditioning.

Much research has been dedicated to examining the link between brain chemistry and anxiety, specifically, the role that certain neurotransmitters play in contributing to its expression. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that communicate information to cells in the brain and the body. At times, information transmission can be disrupted and can lead to changes in emotional states. This happens for various reasons, including abnormal levels of neurotransmitters. For example, having low levels of serotonin has been associated with both depression and anxiety.

Environmental factors such as upbringing, the economy, unhealthy relationships, health issues, death of a loved one, substance abuse, finances, and unpredictable global events like COVID-19 can also significantly contribute to anxiety.

What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders are elevated levels of anxiety that significantly interfere with a person’s functioning in one or more domains of their life (e.g., work, school). They differ from normal feelings of anxiousness, and involve persistent and excessive fear. They can prevent you from stepping out of your home, socializing with friends, and living a “normal” or full life. Anxiety disorders can have a permanent impact on health and well-being and can worsen over time without treatment.

The 6 different types of anxiety disorders.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a common anxiety disorder characterized by a state of chronic, excessive and persistent worry, and a general feeling of dread or unease. People with GAD tend to worry about multiple things that may seem “mundane” to many. The worries are hard to control. Common things that people with GAD worry about include work, family, finances and health.

The worry is often disproportionate to the situation at hand. People with GAD may also make negative predictions about the future, even when there is no evidence to suggest that their predictions will materialize. They may believe that something terrible will happen and become dominated by fear or concern. The worry can be all-consuming and can affect focus, concentration, memory and cause physical sensations such as muscle tension, restlessness and sleep difficulties.


Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a fear or unease that is experienced in social situations. There is often a fear of being negatively judged or criticized by others. Someone with social anxiety may feel nervous about meeting unfamiliar people, being in larger groups, performing in front of others, or being observed when eating, drinking, or talking. 

Physical symptoms of social anxiety include excessive blushing, nausea, trembling, dizziness, excessive sweating and heart racing.


Specific Phobias

A Specific (aka “simple”) phobia is an excessive fear of a specific activity, events, objects, or animals. Common phobias include a fear of flying, heights, needles, snakes, spiders and seeing and/or giving blood. There is often avoidance that is associated with the object of a person’s phobia and the fear causes significant impairment in a person’s life. 

In more severe forms, phobias can lead to panic attacks. The person with a phobia often knows that their fear is unreasonable, yet finds it very difficult to control the fear.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can occur after a person experiences a traumatic event that has threatened the safety or life of an individual, such as warfare, an assault, an accident, or child abuse. Intense fear, helplessness and distress can be felt when reminded of the traumatic event that can mimic the fear felt during the traumatic incident, causing someone to feel like they are reliving the experience all over again. 

The person may experience flashbacks of the event during the day and nightmares at night. They may avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic event. Their view of the world, themselves and/or other people may shift. Without early treatment intervention, PTSD may also lead to depression, substance abuse, and intentional self-harm.


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is characterized by repetitive, unwanted and distressing thoughts or images (obsessions) that are often accompanied by behaviours or rituals (compulsions) that serve to reduce the anxiety that is associated with the unwanted intrusions.

Common obsessions include concerns about cleanliness, safety, religion, sexuality, and orderliness. Common compulsions include excessive washing, counting, repeating certain words or phrases, and checking.


Panic Disorder (With or Without Agoraphobia)

Panic Disorder is characterized by repeated panic attacks that can occur “out of the blue”, even in situations where someone might not expect to feel anxious (e.g., while relaxing at home). Panic attacks are periods of intense fear that peak quickly and are accompanied by physical sensations that may include heart racing, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, trembling, cold sweats, and perceptual disturbances. 

The person experiencing them often feels that something terrible is about to happen, or that they are losing control.

Are anxiety attacks and panic attacks the same thing?

Anxiety attacks and panic attacks are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. They are differentiated in terms of onsets, intensity and duration of symptoms.

Different Onsets

One significant distinction between anxiety attacks and panic attacks is that anxiety attacks begin gradually and are often preceded by a period of excessive worry. Anxiety attacks are usually caused by an identifiable event or situation. Panic attacks on the other hand, come on suddenly and it is almost impossible to attribute a panic attack to a particular event or happening.

Different Symptoms

Symptoms of a panic attack tend to be more intense than anxiety attacks. Symptoms can include heart racing, chest pain, shortness of breath, shaking, sweating, nausea and numbness or tingling in the extremities. The symptoms tend to peak after about 10 minutes, then gradually subside. 

Symptoms of an anxiety attack tend to be less severe and may include chest pain, dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, irritability, restlessness, increased heartrate, sleep difficulties, concentration problems and muscle tension.

5. Different Duration

Anxiety attacks build up gradually and often last longer than panic attacks. They may persist for hours, days or weeks. Panic attacks on the other hand, are more short-lived and tend to resolve within 30 minutes or less.

6. Different Treatments

Anxiety attacks and panic attacks are treated similarly. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been found to be an effective treatment for both. For more severe or frequent anxiety and/or panic attacks, medication might be indicated in addition to CBT.

Deep breathing, mindfulness, cardiovascular exercise and yoga have also been found to be helpful. Given that anxiety attacks are associated with an identifiable worry or stressor, worry management techniques can also be a helpful treatment strategy.

5 breakthrough techniques to relieve anxiety in 10 minutes or less.

Scientific breakthroughs in the health and wellness industry have helped to improve the lives of millions of individuals suffering from anxiety. Here are some powerful, proven techniques that you can try today, to help you on your journey to conquering your anxiety.


Mindfulness Meditation Exercise

Scientific breakthroughs in the health and wellness industry have helped to improve the lives of millions of individuals suffering from anxiety. Here are some powerful, proven techniques that you can try today, to help you on your journey to conquering your anxiety.


Intensive Exercise

If you feel your thoughts begin to take over and anxiety begins to creep in, immediately do at least 5 minutes of intense cardiovascular exercise. Go for a run, do push-ups, jump on your bike, do jumping jacks – anything that helps to refocus your attention and help to expend anxious energy. This can help stop the spiraling thoughts that often come with anxiety and release “feel good” brain chemicals that promote positive thinking and reduce anxiety.


Interrupt your Anxious Thought Process

Count backwards from 100 to 0 and then follow the alphabet from A-Z and name a person, place, or thing that begins with each letter as you go. This helps to interrupt rumination and refocus on something other than your worries.


Habit Stacking

Identify a habit that you already have thatis well ingrained and then stack practicing your anxiety managementtechniques on top. For example, you may practice mindfulness meditation while brushing yourteeth, or counting backwards from 100 when you have your daily morning coffee.


Practice Gratitude – and Journal it!

At the end of your day, write down 3-5 things that you are grateful for, that are specific to that day, no matter how small. Taking stock of what you are grateful for helps to shift negative thinking and worry and helps with perspective taking. Practicing gratitude every day for 1 month has been found to reduce anxiety and improve overall mood.


Everyone’s experience with anxiety is different; you may not find all of the aforementioned techniques helpful for your specific type of anxiety. It is important to know that anxiety is extremely manageable and treatable. If you are having difficulties controlling or reducing your anxiety on your own, please reach outto book a free 15 minute consultation to discuss how we can help you.

Understanding Anxiety and 5 ways to Relieve it in 10 Minutes or Less

Dr. Gina Di Giulio

Ph.D., C. Psych., LL.M., Founder and CEO at PathWell

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